the surprising benefit of art therapy
All around the world, ‘Headline News’ is drawing our attention to how overwhelmed, stressed-out and anxious we all are. I’m not sure about you, but I can certainly relate to this modern-day dilemma, especially at the time of writing this post! Luckily, as health professionals have found, there are a few solutions we can try.
In my work with parents and children, I have seen first-hand how art therapy can alleviate states of overwhelm and stress. In actual fact, art therapy is a great therapeutic tool for many different matters, not just for feelings of inundated exhaustion! As stated by one participant dealing with conflict:
‘… the one surprising benefit of art therapy is that it can be inspirational.’
Before we look at this concept in more detail, it is essential to explain what art therapy is and how it works.
What is art therapy?
In a nutshell, art therapy is the integration between art and psychotherapy. With the support of a qualified art psychotherapist, clients express themselves through a variety of art mediums. They can use paint, crayons, clay, paper, dance, drama or film. The list of art media and modalities are endless.
Whether it is in healthcare, education, correctional facilities, or private practice; art therapy has become a popular choice of treatment in a wide variety of settings.
Clients range from pre-school children, to mental health patients, to people with learning disabilities, the elderly, the bereaved and traumatised, or those coping with addiction, depression, low self-esteem or cancer.
How does it work?
The idea behind art therapy is not about creating ‘beautiful’ works of art. There is no requirement for clients to be ‘good at’ painting, drawing, sculpting, dancing or writing poetry. Instead, it is all about the art-making process, which includes:
- working with an art medium,
- using an art modality as a form of self-expression, and finally,
- reflecting on the work to gain new insights.
As mentioned earlier, the one surprising benefit of art therapy is that it can be inspirational. And the reason for this inspiration is because …
art therapy gives you direct access to your subconscious thoughts
Now, in case you were wondering, professional art therapists don’t make diagnostic assessments of your art! And, no, they don’t gain some mystical insight into your subconscious mind! This could not be further from the truth!
You are the only one with the power to gain direct access to your subconscious thoughts. You become your own therapist.
So what then is the role of the art therapist?
The art therapist
Firstly, an art therapist creates a safe space for you to freely and openly express yourself. Then, as you naturally begin to project your thoughts and feelings onto your artwork, the skilled therapist will gently support you in resolving any inner conflict.
As in most therapies, the relationship between the client and therapist is central. In art therapy, there is also the added relationship with the art material, the art process and the final product.
Once these structures are in place, meaning takes shape and inspiration strikes; sometimes very unexpectantly!
The surprising benefit
Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, used art-making as a therapeutic tool with his clients. He believed that art therapy offers direct access to that ‘space where all images reside’; that place he coined the ‘collective unconscious‘. It is a shared space among beings of the same species.
You may have heard others refer to it as the Void, the Matrix, or the Unified Field.
Either way, when we represent a ‘problem’ through art, then instincts and symbols from our collective unconscious rise to the surface of our awareness.
As this happens, we gain new insight into our ‘problem’ and feel inspired to take action.
As an art therapist, I often see this phenomenon in my work with parents and children. After some time reflecting on their completed artwork, parents and children identify symbols in their work that reveal hidden meanings or fresh insights.
This is when they experience those ‘a-ha’ moments where they suddenly ‘see’ or ‘perceive’ something they had not consciously known before.
Of course, there are many other benefits to art therapy, including:
- physical healing: stress release
- self-understanding: the ability to process problems and gain new insights
- emotional healing: the freedom to express feelings that are too difficult to talk about
- social connection: forming bonds with like-minded people in group therapy
- creative problem solving: skills to cope with complicated setbacks and obstacles
- spiritual growth: healing the spirit/soul and feeling connected to ‘something bigger’
- personal growth: insight into factors that have been hindering emotional expression and growth
- self-empowerment: self-destructive thoughts replaced by increased confidence and self-esteem
If the idea of art therapy appeals to you and is something you would like to explore in person or online, please book in for an art therapy session with Laurinda today.
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